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Vaccination week: Pan American Health Organization calls for “closing the gap”

Posted: Saturday, April 24, 2021. 3:35 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Vaccination for COVID-19 may be on the rise, but for other diseases, especially in children, it fell between 14 and 19 percent in 2020, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

In 2020, vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis dropped by 18.2% while immunization against measles, mumps, and rubella declined by 13.9%, compared to 2019. The decline in immunization was partly due to interruptions in health services because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The call for stepped-up immunization coincides with the April 24-30 Vaccination Week in the Americas and World Immunization Week, regional and global events when countries launch immunization campaigns. The 2021 theme – “Vaccines bring us closer” – is the need to focus on closing the immunization breach.

“The Americas has been tremendously successful in immunization against many serious diseases,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “We were the first region in the world to eliminate smallpox, polio, and rubella. But we are now seeing declines in immunization, and we must reverse that trend not only for the health of our children but also for the well-being of our entire society.”

In 2020 in the WHO Region of the Americas, 18.2% fewer children (474,395 in total) received all three shots of DPT3 vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, compared to 2019. Also in 2020, 13.9 percent fewer children (379, 208 in total) received their dose of MMR1 vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, compared to the year before.

COVID-19 restrictions on movement contributed to fewer vaccinations. In addition, many people were reluctant to go to health facilities to request vaccinations for fear of COVID-19 transmission.

“The Americas has been at the forefront of reducing deadly and life-altering disease through vaccination,” said Dr. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Matus, Chief of PAHO’s Immunization Unit. “In recent years, we have seen a dangerous decline. This year’s Vaccination Week in the Americas is a chance not only to celebrate the availability of immunization but also to get vaccination back on track.”

Urging countries to increase immunization, Dr. Etienne called for government policies to strengthen public confidence in vaccination. She urged the promotion of immunization during the COVID-19 pandemic and support the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.

She also called for maintaining public health measures – physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene – throughout the COVID-19 vaccination process and until the pandemic is defeated.


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